The Art of Giving Feedback to Malaysians

Blog-Giving Feedback to Malaysians.Pic

The delicate art of giving feedback to Malaysians is one that many expat managers might regularly struggle with. “Should I praise/shame him in public? Do I wait until the annual performance review to give feedback? How do I motivate her to improve in a particular area? Maybe if I just ignore the issue, he’ll figure it out sooner or later and just stop doing it?” If you’ve asked yourself these questions, fear not as you are not alone.

One main reason giving feedback can be an unpleasant task is because some fear the reactions they will receive. They might hurt the other person in ways they didn’t intend and the relationship might suffer as a result. In addition, the lack of training and differing personalities adds to the complexity of it all.

In a culturally diverse country like Malaysia, how can expat managers learn to be comfortable in delivering feedback effectively? The key is understanding the cultural makeup of its people. Firstly, Malaysians are a face-saving culture so feedback should optimally be given privately to the individual. Publicly praising someone in front of others can cause the one being singled out to feel embarrassed, while publicly shaming or chastising another will cause humiliation and loss of respect for that individual.

Secondly, indirect negative feedback works best where constructive criticisms are involved. So it is best to wrap negative messages in positive ones, in a subtle and diplomatic way. One could also use downgraders such as “kind of”, “a little” and “maybe” to soften the message. Instead of saying “That was a terrible job” a better approach could be to say “Maybe we can do this slightly differently. What do you think?” A Westerner might argue that the message could be missed entirely, but Malaysians are a high-context culture so messages are often spoken and read between the lines. When communication is implied and not plainly expressed, a Malaysian will be able to “read the air” as it were, and make the necessary changes.

Thirdly, studies show that Asian cultures subscribe to a holistic thinking. In short, this means we prefer to understand the bigger picture of things first and see how all the pieces fit together. So if you need to motivate or persuade a Malaysian to improve in a certain aspect, take some time to explain the bigger picture (company values/project objectives/personal development) to help that individual see clearly how his contribution to the company really matters.

When managers successfully deliver corrective feedback, it promotes the development of employees and can lead to increased organizational productivity and performance. Cultural training can boost the awareness and understanding of cultural differences, making it easier for managers in Malaysia to hone this necessary and delicate skill.


By Boleh Blogger